Sunday, March 13, 2016

Chain of Craters, Day 1

A reunion hike with my hiking buddy Jan, exactly a year after we started the Arizona Trail. This time, a 36.8 mile, two day backpack on the CDT across the Chain of Craters south of Grants, NM.
"J and J" reunited on the CDT in New Mexico.
 This section of the CDT isn’t smash you over the head gorgeous in the classical sense.  It takes time for eyes to adapt to the wide-openness of the ponderosa savanna and pinon-juniper forest, the shades of grey-green-brown, the wind blowing through the eyelash grass. Over the last two months living out here, I’ve come to love this landscape.  
But hearing Jan’s stories of her latest spectacular adventures—the Sierra, snow-covered Lassen, the Death Valley Superbloom, the Grand Canyon—I get all nervous because how can this compare?  Is she going to be bored?

But Jan doesn't seem to mind.  She’s a wonder of cheerfulness. 
Following the cairns.
Hiking with Jan is like being six years old and going out at recess to play.  Only we get to go play in the lava and climb cinder cones and stay out by ourselves all night with no supervision.

There is a hole.  Perhaps a lava tube?  It’s tempting to jump in feet first to see if I fit.  But I wonder if maybe my legs would get bitten off by a mountain lion, and legs are not something that I want to loose, given their utility in backpacking.  
I stick my head in first and it smells like pee or maybe skunk, or skunk pee.
Since there are no glowing eyes staring back at me, I climb inside.  Into a cold other-world with ice and definitely a strong smell.  It might be fun to hide in wait until another hiker comes and then jump out and say boo.  Only we don’t see any other hikers the entire trip so I’m glad I didn’t try it.
I’d been optimistic about the first cattle tank having water.  On the water report, it was marked “good” back in April of 2015 by Peru.  That was 11 months ago, but I met Peru at the Andersons on the PCT and she was really cool.  By hiker logic, surely that would mean that there must be water now at this stock tank.   
The thing about hiker logic is that it’s not really logical.  There are fresh tire tracks, but the tank is dry.  Suddenly I’m flooded with anxiety over whether we’ll find any more water out here.  Maybe it’s too early for cows?  Maybe we will die of dehydration out there.

Jan starts singing, “Who let the cows out.. Who, who, who!” (to the tune of who let the dogs out)  And we erupt into a geyser of giggles and continue hiking.  What else is there to do but hike on?
Walkin' on the "trail"
On the lee side of Cerro Negro, a grove of ponderosa, with a bed of soft pine needles for Jan, becomes home for the night.

Hanging in the ponderosa.
Jan holds down the fort, while I rush strait up the cinder cone to catch the sunset.  Only three or four hundred feet up but all the difference for views that reveal the arc of the snow-dusted volcanic cinder cones along the Continental Divide that make up this Chain of Craters.  With the fire of a sunset, it’s possible to imagine the lava spewing up out of the vents some 110,000 to 200,000 years ago.
From the top of Cerro Negro.
Ah sunset.
Back in camp, we start a grand snow melting operation.  As long as there is snow, we will not go thirsty!  We are stoveless, of course, but we use what assets we’ve got, namely body heat.  Snow is packed into water bottles, and seeded with water to facilitate melting.  
Filling our bottles with snow.
After double checking the lids are tight, I cuddle up to my slushy-snow water container inside my hammock.  It’s the complete opposite of sleeping with hot water bottles— ice sucks up all warmth but I’m so cozy in my quilts that it doesn’t matter.  And eventually the snow melts to water, and they get banished to my pack for the remainder of the night, and yay we probably aren’t going to die after all- yay!
Ice water bottles in my hammock.
Just before falling asleep, I yell over to Jan, “Did you say the forecast was for zero % chance of rain tonight?” 

“That’s right,” she shouts over.  

At midnight, it starts to lightly rain.  

Of course.

As I drift off to sleep again, after getting up to check my tarp rigging, I think to myself, life doesn’t get any better than this.


Date hiked: March 5-6, 2016

This was our first day on our two day, 36.8 mile section of the CDT in New Mexico through the Chain of Craters, south of Grants, between 117 and 35.  

On our first day, we started hiking at the junction of 42/Chain of Craters and 53 (Guthook CDT mile 495.0) and hiked south to near Cerro Negro (CDT mile 482.8).

No water at the stock tank 19-245RX.
First flowers of the season


  1. Replies
    1. You must--shes awesome! Actually, while we were out there we mentioned that we both want to hike with you someday. :)